Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Review & Interview: California The Magic Island (Doug Hansen)

CALIFORNIA, the Magic Island
Written & Illustrated by Doug Hansen
Heyday (
April 2016 // $17.00 - Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-59714-332-5
9 x 12, 48 pages, fully illustrated in color

A new picture book from the author-illustrator of Aesop in California
Queen Calafia, the main character of a sixteenth-century Spanish romance about an island overflowing with gold and populated by Amazon-like women, is incensed when she hears that we have adopted her name for our state. Being the good and reasonable queen that she is, she’s willing to hear from twenty-six animals about why California is worthy of her name. But if she decides it isn’t, she’ll launch an army of goddesses riding griffins to wreak her vengeance! Each animal characterizes California in a key cultural object or historical event: for example, the swordfish describes the tomols of the Chumash people, while the gull tells Calafia about the Gold Rush. Large, intricate illustrations display a wealth of research into every subject, rendered with the highest level of artistic skill.
More majestic than most ABC books, California, the Magic Island is a delightful exploration of what makes California worthy of its regal name.

Kirkus Reviews:

“Vibrant, posterlike pictures accompany the vignettes and showcase the beauty and wealth of the flora, fauna, and history. [R]eaders will certainly want to browse through this generous book, and many will hope that the illustrations might be released as posters. A must in the Golden State; teachers in other states could use it as inspiration for their own mythic histories.”

Displaying Doug Hansen pic.png

Doug Hansen was born in Fresno, California, and is the eldest of six children in an artistic family. Doug has worked as a Fresno Bee newsroom artist, freelance illustrator, and cartoonist, and he illustrated David Mas Masumoto’s books Letters to the Valley: A Harvest of Memories and Heirlooms: Letters from a Peach Farmer. He’s also written and illustrated his own books: Mother Goose in California and Aesop in California. He teaches rendering and illustration at his alma mater, California State University, Fresno.

1. What gave you the inspiration to write this book?

Heyday publisher emeritus, Malcolm Margolin, suggested a California history book and this is what a Doug Hansen-style history book looks like - I was moved to collect two-dozen bits of cool California lore that hadn't made it into my two previous California-centric children's books and wrap them up in the Calafia legend. Additionally, I was reading some tales from the Arabian Nights at that time and the Scheherazade story inspired the twist of animals telling stories to save their home state from the angry queen.

2. Who is your favorite character in the book?

The raucous, unnamed "stunt parrot" from "Secrets of Hollywood Movie Magic" makes me laugh every time I read his story. He is so oblivious to the niceties of courtly etiquette that I think he is a refreshing antidote to the other animals.

3. Which came first, the title or the text for the book?

The title came pretty early - it seemed so audacious to claim California was an island that I became attached to it and I hoped that readers would be intrigued.

4. What story or historical event within the book are you most proud of, and why?

I'm proud of "The Glittering Tower of Jewels." The pigeon starts out sleeping on window ledges in North Beach and ends up living in "a palace" (the Palace of Fine Arts). The bird names the lovely colors found in the gems that decorate the Tower of Jewels - colors found in its own plumage. As I studied the Panama Pacific International Exposition I fell in love with the dream-like grandeur of the Jewel City, and I tried my best to capture that in my illustration.

5. Do you create the illustrations first or the text? And is it difficult to do both?

I teach illustration at Fresno State and I instruct my students that the story comes first - I followed that dictum in this book. Probably my 22 years as a staff artist in the newsroom of The Fresno Bee inspired that dynamic - the story came first then I'd create the illustration to go with it. But I admit it's a luxury to make last-minute text changes when the story didn't precisely match the finished art.

6. How did you or your publisher decide on the image for the cover of the book?

In the previous book ("Aesop in California") I think I submitted seven different cover compositions before we decided on the best one. But for this book Heyday just turned me loose and I think I got an OK on my first try. The imagery of the red griffin against the blue ocean captivated me. I wanted Queen Calafia out there too - pushing the magical or fantastic aspect of the title as far as I could.

7. Thinking back to the beginning of your career, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?

I'm an illustrator trying to become a proficient writer - my first writing for a children's book was for the Aesop book in 2013. The nurturing provided by editor Jeannine Gendar at Heyday gave me the confidence to write. I start in a real free-form mode - just writing down whatever occurs to me. Then I edit, edit, edit. These stories all had to start and finish in about three paragraphs. I speak them aloud to see how they sound - that helps me a lot.

8. What was your favorite book in 2015?

I have a signed copy of Margarita Engle's "Drum Dream Girl" with beautiful, soul-satisfying illustrations by Rafael Lopez that I admire.

9. What’s up next for you?

I'll retire this spring from full-time teaching. Travel and, hopefully, more illustration projects will ensue. I plan to propose another picture book idea to Heyday this summer. 

Extra: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Just that I love making pictures for stories. The time I spend bringing each one to life brings me a lot of satisfaction. Also, readers can find out more about me and my books at

Other links:

Goodreads * Amazon  * Heyday Book Page

California, The Magic Island tells a story about how California might have got its name. Queen Calafia is the ruler of an island that is overflowing with gold and populated by women...when trying to decide what to name the island the Queen decides to listen to 26 animals as they explain why the name, California, perfectly fits the state.

I loved how each animal had a unique and personal story that showed their attachment to the state and gave valid reason for the naming of the state. I also enjoyed how the author intertwined fantasy and magic into each story. There are historical references throughout the entire book so this book will be great for school-age kids to read and have both facts and fiction to enjoy the book.

Overall this is a very informative and yet fascinating story that is perfect for children and has enough magic and fantasy in it to keep their attention while they are learning about the state of California. 

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